The Little-Known Difficulties Of Playing ‘Beginner’ Guitars

3127634646_ff42324d9e_bIf you’re in the market for a guitar, you’ve likely seen “beginner” models and packages offered. But are they worth it? Find out in this guest post by Austin, TX teacher Samuel B...

 

Recently some of my beginner students have requested shopping tips for more advanced models of guitars. Though my familiarity with standard models for various genres is considerable, I don’t train aspiring musicians to master one specific genre. Although jazz sounds best when played on a hollow-bodied electric with “f” holes on either side of the strings (just as blues-rock is played best on a Fender Stratocaster, electric Chicago-based blues on its cousin the Telecaster, and so forth), I don’t recommend that you purchase one of these models for the reason cited above.

Beginners frequently learn to play “beginner” guitar models (miniature instruments made by obscure companies). If you’re a beginner, I recommend that your brand of purchase instead be recognizable. It need not be brand new or first-hand, but it should be a model of some note. Martin is one name of repute. So are Fender, Yamaha, Washburn, and Epiphone. These models are known not only for their sound, but for their relatively uncomplicated maintenance. While inexpensive, the “beginner” guitar models you see have multiple drawbacks:

  • Beginner guitars produce a poor sound

My first acoustic guitar (a “beginner” model) did. This is not an issue when you’re being introduced to the instrument, but will likely become one once you reach an understanding of your potential as a musician. You want an instrument that broadcasts (not simply delivers) your sound. You might as well start with one.

  • Beginner guitars are generally more difficult to re-string than their mainstream counterparts

I’m remembering several bridge-related hiccups with my first electric (another obscure model), some of which required the use of Allen wrenches. At one point, I even lost a weak tuning peg on it and had to resort to an ill-fitting replacement during the rest of the instrument’s shelf life. If memory serves, the pickup itself wobbled as it appeared to have been poorly fastened.

Recognizable Plug-In Acoustics Give You the Most Options

I can only recommend the genre-specific models listed at the beginning of the article if you’ve made your desire to master only one technique unequivocal. Otherwise, recognizable plug-in acoustics give you the most leverage, whatever your aspiration — be it to perform, record, lead singing, teach singing, or even embark on a musicological endeavor like collecting and learning little-known folk songs. They’re durable, sonically pleasing, and are proper equipment for anything from “Kum Ba Ya” around a campfire to a CSN&Y reunion show at the Hollywood Bowl in that the simple element of electricity (or lack thereof) determines the role they’ll play.

So, What Type of Guitar Should Beginners Purchase?

As a performer, my act falls within the singer-songwriter category, which typically involves the use of an acoustic guitar plugged into a sound system. I own two: a Yamaha (purchased from some former housemates for less than $100) and a Takamine (which I obtained roughly 10 years ago upon trading in both my first black electric model and my Telecaster imitation model — I may have even sacrificed an inexpensive amplifier or two in the exchange as well).

My Takamine has been a faithful sidekick during innumerable sets at local coffeehouses here in Austin. It’s also one of the most recognizable acoustic-electric brand names. I always have it in my lap when I teach and I believe it to be among the top user-friendly models; it has proved itself the most versatile and reliable guitar I’ve ever owned or played. It sounds cleaner and is more robust than any other model familiar to me. Its durability has allowed me to serve the multiple roles of performer, teacher, and independent recording artist. I can also maintain my relatively low-consumption lifestyle — the backpack straps on its case (a separate purchase) make for easy transport on bike, bus, and even plane.

Be Patient And Open-Minded While Shopping

The best shopping advice, of course, is to explore multiple options. Despite my mainstream-oriented advice about the brands, I recommend that you seek your model in a pawn shop or locally-owned music store, as these outlets tend to have better deals than large chains. You might even have luck on Craigslist. I also recommend that you compare prices as much as possible.

Just as you need a reliable vehicle to carry you long distances, you need a sturdy, versatile, and aurally-attractive instrument to accompany the ongoing development of your musical knowledge and enthusiasms – preferably from the very start. That way, you won’t have to anticipate replacing your instrument down the line.

 

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

 

 

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